Employers have a duty to maintain safe and productive working environments, which in many cases means identifying and resolving personnel complaints. The human resources department, or a manager in charge of HR matters for small businesses, is the designee for receiving and resolving employee complaints. Responding to employee complaints is a critical element in running a business. The more effective an employer is at handling personnel complaints, the more successful the company can be in strengthening the employer-employee relationship. Left unresolved, personnel complaints can disrupt the workplace and create overall dissatisfaction among employees.


To effectively respond to and resolve employee complaints, many employers have a step-by-step process that they publish in their employee handbooks. Alternatively, small-business employers let employees know who to consult when they have a workplace complaint. Establishing a process for employees to voice their concern and designating the appropriate staff to investigate personnel complaints are two essential steps in effectively handling employee complaints. Having a process in place can prevent informal employee complaints from escalating to formal complaints that require many more resources, time and expense to resolve.


The process of responding to employee complaints refers to how the company receives employee complaints. When an employee has a problem in the workplace -- whether it's an issue with a supervisor, another employee or a job responsibility -- she should be able to voice her concerns to a manager who has the authority to resolve the issue or an HR staff member specially trained to handle employment issues. Effectively responding to employee complaints requires a staff member to meet with the employee, document the complaint or issue, develop an investigative plan and resolve the matter. Small business owners often delegate this responsibility to the person in charge of HR if the company doesn't have a dedicated HR department.


All employee complaints don't have to be investigated. In fact, one of the steps in handling personnel complaints is determining whether the employee's complaint requires an investigation. For example, if an employee complains that his co-worker's behavior is off-putting, it may be enough to simply visit with both employees to determine if there's an unresolved matter between the two or if the co-worker's demeanor is just a personality trait. On the other hand, complaints about unlawful behavior, such as workplace harassment, must be investigated. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission strongly suggests that employers take action in correcting behavior that involves harassment or discrimination if the company wants to avoid liability for matters that violate civil rights laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Within this context, taking action starts with an investigation of the employee's allegations.


Resolving personnel complaints can range from simply conferring with a supervisor about unwanted behavior in the workplace or mediating employer-employee differences with the assistance of an EEOC mediator. Maintaining productive work environments depends largely on how the company resolves employee complaints. Companies that ignore complaints from personnel might create distrust among employees who feel their employer doesn't really care about workplace safety or about creating a positive work environment. On the other hand, companies that listen to employees' complaints and take corrective action to resolve issues could gain respect from the workforce.